1796: Haydn: Trumpet Concerto in Eb major

SATURDAY, September 19, 2020 – 12:45 AM

Haydn: Trumpet Concerto in Eb major, age 64

Maurice Andre…

There has never been a better player of this smaller trumpet, called either Eb trumpet or clarino trumpet. It is fiendishly difficult to play, but when he plays you don’t know it. He was an absolute master, and this concerto may be the most famous one Haydn ever wrote. Note that when he composed this he was almost 65 years old, and he lived to be 77. In that era that was like living to 100.

  • 0:01 – I. Allegro (sonata), Eb major: It’s in sonata form, and every note sounds like it just happened. Old Papa Haydn just got better and better. I learned to play this on my baritone (euphonium) when I was around 15, just by listening to a record. I though everyone could do that.
  • 6:27 – II. Andante (A-B-A), Ab major: This is one of the most famous melodies every written, and Andre is smooth as silk.
  • 10:23 – III. Allegro (rondo), Eb major: Nothing could sound easier. At the end of the movement some of the phrases are insanely difficult, but he makes the whole thing sound like child’s play.

Instrumentation:

  • solo trumpet
  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons,
  • 2 horns, 2 (presumably natural) trumpets
  • timpani
  • strings

Written in  1796 for a good friend…

He wrote it for his long-time friend Anton Weidinger. Joseph Haydn was 64 years of age. It may be Haydn’s most popular concerto.

Who was Anton Weidinger?

Anton Weidinger developed a keyed trumpet which could play chromatically throughout its entire range. It was the forerunner of the modern valve trumpet. Today most orchestras use C and Bb trumpets, and Bb trumpet is almost universally played in wind ensembles. C trumpet is just a bit smaller and sounds pretty similar but a bit brighter. Eb trumpet is much smaller and therefore much brighter. It’s easier to play very high notes, but it’s wickedly difficult to play in the low range.

Valveless trumpets…

Also called “natural trumpet”, these old trumpets could only play the natural harmonic series, and that made them useful only for playing high notes

Haydn’s concerto includes melodies in the middle and lower register, and the world had never heard this before. Today we take it for granted.

Using keys…

Weidinger’s idea of drilling holes and covering them with flute-like keys was supposedly not a success, but this brings up a question: if it was so bad, why did Haydn write for it? Perhaps Weidinger was so good that he actually made it sound good, but no one else could. I’ve heard natural horn players do stunning things on a primitive instrument that I would have sworn would just sound awful. These old valveless players were amazing, so I think Weidinger must have been a pioneer and rather amazing to hear.

To understand how ahead Weidinger was, note that that there is a trumpet part in this concerto for orchestral players using valveless trumpets. Those other trumpet players must have been green with envy.

Evolution of the trumpet…

The valved trumpets used today were first constructed and used in the 1830s, and that’s important to realize when listening to symphonies written before that time. Those old trumpets were so limiting that you had to have a different trumpet for each key, and if you had to play in more than one key in a symphony you had to change a crook. The practical result was that when Beethoven wrote his 5th symphony he could only use trumpet there in the key of Eb. Later, when the same theme came back in C major, he had to use bassoons.

 

 

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